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  • Sugar, Droit Moral & Art?
Sugar, Droit Moral & Art?

This entry is going to be longish with possible specious leaps in logic and ultimately concluding with no new shop announcement (event, pop-up or otherwise). I’m just putting that out there in case you have important stuff to do.

First, the definitions (obviously selected to make subsequent statements less specious).

Sugar: On this one I’m going to go with the transitive verb form (which is really sugared or sugaring). From Merriam Webster “to make palatable or attractive."

Droit Moral (Or as the English speaking world pronounces it “moral rights"): From Wikipedia moral rights “are rights of creators of copyrighted works … . They include the right of attribution, …, and the right to the integrity of the work. (now read the next bit closely) The preserving of the integrity of the work bars the work from alteration, distortion, or mutilation. Anything else that may detract from the artist’s relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist’s possession or ownership may bring these moral rights into play. Moral rights are distinct from any economic rights tied to copyrights. Even if an artist has assigned his or her copyright rights to a work to a third party, he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work."

Art: Okay, let’s stick with Merriam again; however, I’ve opted for the ‘concise encyclopedia’ entry. "A visual object (I’m placing the emphasis on what follows) or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination."

Most new (independent) coffee shops around the country that focus exclusively on coffee, or use words like craft, passion, sustainability, fairness, artisan or the like in combination with coffee, lean toward no sugar or syrups being made available in their shops. Now why is this? Most do so without much explanation or written manifestos. Here are some theories: (1) “I’m more ‘punk rock’ than you" -well that kind of syndrome. Other ways of saying the same thing might go “I’m harder than you", “I’m more serious than you", “I mean what I say", etc.; (2) As a market signal to say, “we’re not that big ‘roided out 800 pound corporate player in the market that’s doing ‘bad’ stuff" (fill in your favorite corporate coffee offender as you see fit.); (3) “I’ve got a quality product here, thoughtfully sourced and prepared and you don’t need sugar to repair it -to (how did Merriam above say it) “make it palatable or attractive"; (4) maybe it’s a protest against the increasing homogeneity in the world -a way of saying ‘I’m a snowflake’. Also, because sugar is the great homogenier -if you put enough on or in something it just tastes like sugar -it’s a protest song to our lost regionalism, a chant of ‘death to the franchise’; or (5) A form of paternalism, much like Bloomberg’s NYC ban on super-sized sodas and the like.

Sump’s journey was a much less strategized trajectory. We opened 18 months ago with it -out and obvious. Then moved it to under the counter, something you had to ask for -creating a sort of sugar walk of shame. Eventually we got rid of it completely. (I could go into the minute details of the moment it happened, when the decision was made, the hour, what person tipped the scale (because it’s always that one person) -but I needn’t -the end result is what matters.) Now you are probably saying to yourself, which of the above reasons allowed you to ‘kick the habit’? Well since I wrote the above they obviously all rattled around in my head as  thoughts or (pre or post) motivations. I would like to say that it’s mainly or solely (3). I mean I believe that, but no one is perfect -you can only strive for perfection, you can never be perfection. “Aha!" you say, “your own confessed imperfection should allow you to permit others to repair what you say yourself is never really perfect. I mean people paid for it, they should be able to do what they want with it." This is where the principle of Droit Moral comes into play.

I’ll give you a second to quickly re-read the definition of Droit Moral. Now, the leap here is whether it’s ‘copyrightable’ subject matter (hint -it’s not). So because I lose on that statutory definition I will be substituting ‘art’ (as defined above) for ‘copyrightable’ subject matter. So what if we at Sump are creating an "experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination." I’m not just talking about the little hearts and rosettes and whatnots (because not everyone gets a milk drink). I’m suggesting that the whole thing is ‘art’ -from the sourcing of green coffee -what to buy, who to buy from, what not to buy, when to buy, regions to seek out, how we roast, the equipment we selection, the milk, what we don’t select -the negative -the things absent, the imagery, the elements in the shop -what if all of this is art or a single work of art -again “an experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination?" What if? Should there be Droit Moral in it -I mean in the drinks created therefrom? If sugar is added to what is prepared, is it an ‘alteration, distortion, or mutilation’? If it is, then although the ‘work’ has been ‘assigned’ in the form of a sale to a ‘third party’ ‘he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work’ -again the right of being free from ‘alteration, distortion, or mutilation.’ (I did warn you that if you had something else to do you should have done it.) For the record, the application of Droit Moral in the U.S. is very limited -almost nonexistent. In the U.S. it’s all about clear title and Droit Moral doesn’t really provide for a clear title, i.e., no lien or rights holders post-sale. So this whole piece is a bit silly and more coffee fantasy; or should I say mere coffee fantasy.